Offering a slightly fantastical plague scenario not unlike “Blindness,” “The Cleaner” exchanges that book-to-film’s large canvas and graphic societal collapse with something austere and intimate. The story of a middle-aged loner who ends up caring for an orphaned boy amid an epidemic is given carefully controlled treatment by debuting feature writer-helmer Adrian Saba. While emotional impact is ultimately less than one might hope for, the pic’s quiet mix of character-study and near-future shock should attract programmers looking for new talent or fantasy-tinged material.
Reserved, dour-looking Eusebio (Victor Prada) has an unenviable but increasingly essential job: bagging, transporting and incinerating victims of an incurable fast-killing flu-type illness. Alone in the world — almost literally, as Lima’s population shrinks — he’s startled while “cleaning out” a middle-class family’s apartment to discover a young boy (Adrian Du Bois) cowering in a closet. The slow-warming bond between these two strangers is handled tersely but effectively, while the empty urban locations suggest poignancy rather than apocalyptic menace. Still, the overriding restraint ends up limiting the fadeout’s power; “The Cleaner” is an exercise more admirable than compelling, though Saba and collaborators pull it off with stylish economy.